The Pope has made a rare reference to the Catholic child abuse scandal, saying the church must repent for its sins.

His remarks came during Mass with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He said: “I must say, we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repent’, which seemed too tough.

“But now under attack from the world, which has been telling us about our sins … we realise that it’s necessary to repent, in other words, recognise what is wrong in our lives.” His last public remarks on the scandal were in his open letter to the Irish people on March 20.

The remarks also came as the Pope prepares for his first foreign trip since the scandal erupted when he visits heavily Catholic Malta this weekend.

The two-day trip was planned as a pilgrimage among the faithful to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St Paul’s shipwreck there, but it has since raised expectations that the Pope would make a strong gesture to repair the damage of worldwide abuse scandal.

Ten men who testified that they were sexually molested by priests at an orphanage on the island during the 1980s and 1990s have asked to meet the Pope so what they call a “hurtful chapter” in their lives can be closed. Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi, briefing reporters on the trip this week, declined to confirm the Pope would meet them but did not rule it out.

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